c. 2007 Religion News Service
NEW YORK _ When Rebekah Feen turned 21, her mother, Vivian, began “freaking out” about her single status and signed her up on JDate.com, a dating Web site for Jews.
“I guess that’s what Jewish mothers do. They’re set to ignite, they have a timer _ when their child is of marriageable age, the timer goes off,” Feen recalled, chuckling.
She resisted until she turned 28, then sheepishly agreed to let her mother pay for another JDate membership. She quickly met Brian Kanefsky, whose own mother, Edita, had not only signed him up, but initially created his JDate profile without his consent.
Within three months, the couple got engaged; they are now married, with a 9-month-old daughter.
“Our mothers remind us that we would have never met without them,” said Rebekah (Feen) Kanefsky. “We’re not allowed to get mad at them.”
Nagging their children to settle down is only one item on the guilt-inducing checklist of a stereotypical Jewish mother, along with force-feeding and pushing them to become doctors or lawyers. The characterizations are grounded in reality, experts admit, but they also derive from good intentions, and _ as in the Kanefsky case _ aren’t necessarily unwelcome.
“It’s a matter of interpretation,” said Joyce Antler, a mother of two and author of a new book, “You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother.”
Indeed, after reviewing her five years of research on the Jewish mother in American culture and her own deep involvement in both her daughters’ lives, she came to an optimistic conclusion: “Maybe I’m sort of fooling myself, but these characteristics of being involved in our children’s lives are perhaps something that is to be envied, to be celebrated.”
Other ethnic groups, ranging from African-Americans to Greeks, have pointed out that their mothers behave in much the same way, Antler added, but the Jewish stereotype has been the most consistently expressed and analyzed by writers, comedians and sociologists.
Repeated cycles of anti-Semitism _ particularly before and during the Holocaust _ further cemented and vindicated the Jewish mother instinct to overprotect children, she said.
“The stereotypes come from, to a large part, shtetl culture in which there was fears of survival that were quite real, so mothers needed to protect their children,” Antler explained, referring to traditional eastern European Jewish communities such as the fictitious Anatevka of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
But rather than try to suppress their hovering tendencies in a safe land, Antler advises Jewish mothers to embrace their commitment to family life as a positive expression of love and strength.
In her own case, she admits she would probably sign her own daughters _ currently 23 and 30 _ onto JDate.com herself if they didn’t find their desired partners “by a certain date,” in the interest of helping them find happiness and creating the next close-knit generation.
Sparks Networks, the parent company of JDate, owns a range of matchmaking sites tailored for different groups _ Mormons, blacks, single parents _ but meddling mothers are primarily a JDate phenomenon, spokeswoman Gail Laguna said. Some pose as their children and contact prospective matches without their consent, forcing a handful of users to beg Sparks to pull the plug, but the majority simply pay for the monthly subscription or create the initial profile, she said.
“Most (users) find it kind of endearing that their mothers behave that way,” Laguna said. “Overall, it’s all with good intentions in mind.”
The Kanefskys agree, and now that she has become a mom herself, Rebekah Kanefsky said she can slowly see herself turning into her mother _ including pushing her husband around, at times.
And their own daughter, 9-month-old Isabelle, may continue the cycle someday, she added.
“There is a positive side,” Rebekah Kanefsky said. “Jewish mothers meddle. They have to be in your business at all times and tell you what you should be doing _ but, it works.”
KRE/CM END NEROULIASPhotos of Rebekah Kanefsky with her mother and mother-in-law, and Antler with her two daughters, are available via https://religionnews.com.
See related sidebars: RNS-JEWISH-JDATE and RNS-JEWISH-QANDA.